I’m an idiot

It’s been an eventful basement week, but a frustrating one, as well. Some of the frustration has not been my fault at all. The rest has been because, well, I’m an idiot.

Let’s start with the receiver and the speakers. When last we talked, I was looking forward to testing out the receiver with all five installed speakers. But there was a problem. (The problem actually showed up in the initial test, but I was hoping it would be easily resolved. It was, but it took some doing to figure out what needed to be resolved.) Here was the thing: The system sounded fantastic. Crystal clear. Awesome. Powerful. For about five minutes. Then the amp would go into protect mode and shut down.

At first, I thought it was because of the heavy gauge speaker wire I was using. The receiver, for some reason, only uses banana clip inputs for two speakers, the front left and right speakers. The rest have the cheap spring clip connectors. The 12-gauge wire was too thick to fit in the opening well, and bunched up. I figured stray strands from adjacent clips were touching and causing a short. So I ordered a set of pin plugs, which are like banana plugs, but thinner, and designed to fit in the spring clips. They arrived, and I connected them to the cables and plugged them in. Everything was golden for about 10 minutes, then the same thing happened.

I looked at the troubleshooting section of the manual for the receiver. It said to try the center speaker alone, and if that worked ok, add the other speakers one at a time until the problem was isolated. If it wasn’t ok, the unit probably needed servicing.

I tried it with just the center speaker. Had the same result. The pin plugs, though, didn’t seem all that stable (and, oddly, the outside of the plugs is conductive; Amazon reviews warned they needed to be wrapped in electric tape or they might cause shorts. So I clipped off a couple sections of the pin to see if they’d set better and wrapped them all up. Same result. I even tried just the center speaker with a section of the old 18-gauge speaker wire I’d taken out. Same thing. So I got on a Sony online tech support chat. Not helpful. They pointed me to the troubleshooting section I’d already worked through. Finally, they asked when it had last worked as expected. I said, “Never.” They suggested sending it in for servicing.

I had bought the receiver back in December from Amazon. It was past the 30-day return window, but Amazon is rightly renowned for its customer service, so I started an online chat there and explained the situation. They lived up to expectations and shipped out a new unit, overnight. When it arrived, I plugged it in and hooked up the speakers, Blu-ray and projector. About 15 minutes in, it cut out, just like the old one. (Sorry, Amazon.)

But this made me realize that the troubleshooting suggestions for the receiver seemed predicated on the center speaker not having an issue. And, clearly, mine did. So I took it out of the wall and looked it over. Everything looked fine. I had a spare speaker since I had ordered a set of six and only needed five (three front and two sides). I compared it to the spare (I would have just put in the spare, but that would have meant painting it, and I’m lazy). They looked the same. But then I checked the connections a little closer. The solder seemed solid to the tweeter. The mid-range connection wasn’t visible. The woofer was connected with two pins, which looked fine, but when I looked closer, the red wire looked just a tiny bit off. I took it off and reseated it. It seemed more solid, but it was such a small thing, I wondered if it would matter.

I put it back in the wall, put on a movie and waited. I went back upstairs and worked, waiting to hear the audio from the movie (the 2009 Star Trek — lots of explosions) cut out. It didn’t. A half-hour in, I started to breathe easier. An hour in, I figured that must have been it.

And, apparently, I was right. (Again, really sorry about that, Amazon.)

So, about the five-speaker test: Awesome. I turned the receiver up to 39 and felt almost like I was in a movie theater. Crystal clear dialogue. Loud explosions. That was about as loud as I thought I’d need to go in most cases. I figured the receiver probably went to 50, like my old system upstairs. But what if I was wrong? I paused the movie and hit the volume up button. 40. 45. 50. 55. 60. 65. 75. 80. It goes to 100, people. I doubt I’ll ever take it much past 50, but, wow. (Sorry, neighbors.)

Ok, so why am I an idiot? I put in the switches, outlets and light fixture in the bathroom today. The light fixture was a complete pain. I must be really awful at mounting the outlet box for light fixtures. Once more, it was set further back from the wall board than really worked. I tried a few workarounds that didn’t work (and almost, swear to God, used a wooden shim to hold it in place permanently until my wife said, “Um, would that be a fire hazard?”). I did a Google search and found that there’s a product actually designed for this situation, a spacer that goes around the screw between the mounting bracket and the outlet box. I went and bought a package and got the bracket out flush with the wall. But fixture didn’t want to go on right, and the screw that locked the fixture to the bracket wouldn’t go in. The holes didn’t line up. Lots of expletives later, I had about given up when a friend brought his son over to play with mine. He was checking out the basement progress, and I showed him the fixture. Between the two of us, we got it secured, bending the bracket in a couple of places to line everything up.

Then, I installed the outlet for the projector, which I remembered I had wired off the bathroom circuit.

I powered up the circuit. Everything worked. The light worked. Both outlets had power. The fan worked. Then I went to the projector outlet. Dead. Another expletive or two. I checked everything I could think of, but I figured the splice at the light fixture must have worked loose somehow. Which meant I’d need to unmount it. Sigh.

So, I did. I unscrewed the screw that had been so hard to get in. I gently pulled the fixture off the mounting bracket and let it hang against the wall. Then I tried to get to the splice that should have carried the power to the projector outlet. I had to pull out a lot of other wires that had been tucked in there. In doing so, I pulled the negative wire to the fixture pulled loose from the pigtail. Then, before I could react, the other four wires pulled loose from their pigtails and the lamp crashed to the ground, the glass shades shattering.

That earned one huge expletive that I’m hoping my son and his friend were too busy to notice.

I decided, despite my mounting frustration level, to at least check the splice and see if I could figure out the problem. There wasn’t one. It was fine. Luckily, the wall behind the bathroom is unfinished. I figured maybe the cable going from the bathroom to the projector outlet had a short. I realized that my handy circuit detector could read current even through the insulation of a cable. So I re-energized the circuit to see if the cable was energized coming out of the outlet box. Oddly, it was. Then I checked to see if it was energized going into the box. It wasn’t, but when I accidentally brushed a nearby cable with the circuit detector, it lit up. It was the cable that was going to eventually power an outlet at the wet bar. It shouldn’t have been live.

That’s when I realized I’m an idiot. I had misremembered my circuit plan. The cable from the bathroom was going to the wet bar outlet, NOT the projector outlet. The projector outlet was the first outlet in a series of outlets in the home theater room. Once I got those hooked up and energized the proper circuit, the projector outlet worked just fine.

Which means I didn’t have to take the bathroom light fixture down. Which means I could have avoided breaking it.

If only I weren’t an idiot.

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